What exactly IS a Jumble Rock? That was the question I’m sure many fans were asking as Ultraman Decker opened with the three youthful members of GUTS-Select (and everyone’s little buddy, Hanejiro) hanging around in the Nursedessei while waiting for Captain Murahoshi to return from a meeting. The series has put a lot of effort in the last several episodes into defining Kanata’s relationship with Murahoshi, Kaizaki, and Asakage, so it’s great to be reminded of how easy the dynamic between the three younger members can get. (Not to mention how much Kanata seems to rub off on Hanejiro, for better or worse!)
Of course, the mood quickly shifts when the Nursedessei experiences a sudden blackout, and Hanejiro detects an intruder on the ship. Kanata, Ichika, and Ryumon aren’t cowards by any means, but in a slightly more lighthearted episode like this, it’s fine for them to be a little nervous, fumbling in the dark until they come across the sinister intruder… Marluru?!
We’ve revisited Marluru a few times since Ultraman Trigger ended, most recently in the first Recap Special, where the sharp-tongued little alien reunited with his close friend (and formerly Tsuburaya Imagination-exclusive character) Hotta, who he helped design GUTS-Select’s fantastic arsenal alongside. As one of the foremost technological minds in the TPU’s employ and the designer of the Nursedessei, it makes sense that he’d return when the time comes to fix up the team’s flagship.
And fix up is an understatement! The Nursedessei has been in rough shape for a while now, having been both pushed too hard and taken care of too little since the war against the Sphere started, and Marluru is coming in to conduct repairs before the thing just falls out of the sky; or at least, he was before he was interrupted by the young trio, all of whom earn a thorough roasting, AKA the Marluru Special. (Save of course, for Hanejiro, who’s everyone’s favorite.)
What this all is leading to, of course, is Decker’s midseason recap. Now that the show has reached the halfway mark (and man, has it ever felt like time is flying), we get a sort of pseudo-break that reviews the events of the first half and sets up the second. This isn’t a new thing in Ultraman series runs, but since Ultraman Z, more effort has been made to make such recaps diegetic, and important to the narrative, and that’s a good thing.
What could have been a straightforward retelling of episodes 1 through 12 is instead a fun, character-driven bottle episode that recontextualizes the events of the series thus far, as well as the setting itself, through the lens and narration of the people who’ve lived those events, especially Kanata’s. Though Hanejiro has been an excellent secret-keeper up to now, the nature of his relationship with Kanata means he can’t exactly talk to him about the mechanics and metaphysical meaning behind his relationship with Decker.
By contrast, Marluru is not only a trustworthy guest that won’t be around others to risk spilling the beans, but also has worked with an Ultra-host in disguise before, Kengo Manaka. As a veteran from the days of Ultraman Trigger’s tenure, Marluru can recognize behaviors and signs from Kanata that he recognizes from working with Kengo; and of course, the clever alien is able to easily trick the truth out of Kanata with a few well-placed words.
And thanks to that, what could have been a relatively simple recap expands into an examination of Kanata’s character, his relationships, and feelings towards the powers of Decker, and the core of his character, the ongoing journey of deciding who he wants to be. The search for purpose has been a defining characteristic of Kanata’s journey so far, and his interactions with people who have found their purpose, like Kengo, or Grace the Gregore, or even Professor Asakage, have all helped guide him along that uncertain path.
Speaking of uncertainty, we get a small, but very interesting moment as Marluru interrogates Kanata over Decker: as he speaks about the Ultraman’s power, he confesses that as Decker’s power grows, he doesn’t exactly feel like he’s getting stronger, but rather, closer to what Decker truly is. It raises the question again: What is Decker? We’ve had mysterious Ultras before, but rarely has the nature of an Ultra been questioned in the series. It makes me curious…
Of course, neither Kanata nor Marluru has time to ponder the greater existential questions, as another error sends Hanejiro offline, and even worse, locks down the room and activates the fire suppression systems, which start to pump in extinguishing gasses! In serious danger, Kanata and Marluru desperately contact Ichika and Ryumon to help free them before it’s too late.
And this is where the story really comes full-circle. Marluru’s introduction to the protagonist trio had him acknowledge their strengths but remark more on their flaws. As the crisis comes to a head, however, Ryumon and Ichika’s supposed “flaws” are shown to in truth be strengths: Ichika’s stubborn recklessness that Marluru had disparaged is part of the straightforward and goal-oriented personality that allows her to stay focused while being the emotional bedrock that supports others, while Ryumon’s “cyborg-like” perfectionism comes from his desire to measure up to the standards of the GUTS-Select that saved his life as a child.
Sharing these elements of the characters isn’t exactly new for Decker, a show that has prided itself on its character-driven storytelling. However, this episode features a smaller setting, where the danger comes not from Sphere or Kaiju, but rather a human issue, something the members of the team can’t rely on Decker’s help to fix, thanks to Kanata leaving his Ultra Dimension Cards in the meeting room after an at-the-time humorous misunderstanding. (No Ichika, it’s not a bandage holder, even if Kanata keeps bandages in it.)
Because of that, Ichika and Ryumon get to be the heroes, the ones directly solving the problem, and these qualities of their characters become the key to its solution in a relatively unique way. Even Kanata gets to shine as himself, rather than as Decker, by pushing through the toxic gas and saving himself and Marluru alongside his compatriots. (And hey, the Giga Earth superbattery returned after it showed up in Episode 5 to be part of the solution! I love little continuity moments like this.)
With the actual disaster averted thanks to the actions of the three rookies, Marluru happily acknowledges the potential of the team, apologizing for running his mouth at them. He has realized though they are young, it only means that they have the potential to grow even greater; and greater they’ll need to be, if they want to free the Earth from the Sphere. I, for one, am not worried. (Though considering Marluru knocked out the power in the Nursedessei again… Maybe I should be…?)
And hey, I never found out what a Jumble Rock is!